...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Single Malt Report: Allt-à-Bhainne Batch 1 That Boutique-y Whisky Company

Let's see...
No age statement. Check.
No indication of maturation or casks used. Check.
500mL bottle. Check.
Priced higher than whiskies bottled by more established companies who offer their products with age statements and maturation information and 700mL bottles. Check.
Oh, but the ultra-relevant cheeky labels! Check.

Allt-à-Bhainne Batch 1, bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC), is priced the same as a 1996 Allt-à-Bhainne refill sherry hogshead bottled by Gordon & MacPhail.  TBWC hasn't given me one reason to buy theirs over G&M's.  Yes, the Connoisseur's Choice labels are fugly while TBWC's are very colorful but is that the best reasoning they've got?  It's essentially Mystery Meat in bright packaging, and such small portions.

I'm quite serious.  Look at this product's site; the ratio of words describing the label to those describing the whisky is 4 to 1.  Throw me a friggin' bone here, people (since they're so keen on '90s pop culture references).  Quirky illustrations on a sticker on the outside of a bottle say nothing about the content inside the bottle.  There are several distilleries that I adore irrationally (for instance, Glen Smooches), but if I saw a Glen Smooches Batch 3 I'd ignore it even if it had a witty drawing of Bob Dylan and Paddy Chayefsky playing Twilight Zone Pinball on the front.

So how's the whisky?

Thank you to Tetris for donating this sample to Diving for Pearls Laboratory!
Distillery: Allt-à-Bhainne (pronounced oalt-uh-vain)
Owner: Pernod Ricard
Independent Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Age: damfino
Maturation: yes
Type: Single Malt
Region: Speyside (Banffshire)
Alcohol by Volume: 49.2%
Limited Release: 304 bottles

One note before the notes.  This whisky was originally one half of a Taste Off, but that pairing ended prematurely as I'll note below.  Its partial partner will be reviewed later this week.

The color is a pale light amber.  The bold nose is mostly a burst of pine needles floating in orange juice.  Gradually other citrus-like notes emerge: grapefruit yogurt, lemon zest, and citronella/lemongrass.  Like the nose, the palate isn't shy.  Peaches, apricots, and cocoa powder arrive first.  Tart limes in caramel sauce.  With time, the cocoa develops into more of a mocha note.  After the second sip, something aggressively drying starts to develop on my tongue and in the back of my throat.  The finish has the peaches and limes from the palate and the grapefruit from the nose.  Some pleasant bitterness as well.  Then that harsh drying thing arrives.

At this point I stopped the Taste Off.  The drying sensation was growing into an actual physical, not just sensory, sensation in my mouth and throat.  I've had this experience with a warm possibly-corked red wine, but never with a single malt.  It was altering how I perceived the other whisky.  I set aside the other whisky for another time.  Then I added water to this whisky, waited fifteen minutes then continued, concerned.

In the nose the pine grows (cute!) and the orange juice vanishes.  Lemon zest remains and it's followed by a little bit of jasmine flowers.  The pine now appears in the palate along with the lemons.  A soft note of vanilla creme filling appears.  It all gets hotter, both peppery and ethyl-y.  The finish is tart, citric, and very drying.

I believe I lived to see another day.  There's a dearth of reliable online tasting notes about this whisky, so I don't know if anyone else found that ugly drying problem.  Without that quirk, this is good whisky.  The nose is very good and the palate starts off well.  And I'd like to recommend it to those who like a lot of citrus in their whisky.  But I can't.  That harsh drying note felt borderline toxic, pushing this from a B whisky to a D+ whisky.

Perhaps there was a TCA-like problem with the bottle?  If so, then they bottled 16-ish bad samples from a not bad whisky.  Or perhaps this was, in fact, representative of the whisky's quality.  If anyone (especially bottle owners who have found this post via a search) has confirming or contrasting experiences, please let me know in the comments below.  Thank you.  In the meantime, I can only rate what I've tried.

Availability - Master of Malt
Pricing - Around $60-$65 w/o VAT, before shipping; close to $90 w/shipping
Rating - 69 (without that awful drying issue this would have scored in the 80s)


  1. I would say that about 1/4 of the 1oz samples I had from MoM had a suspicious taste that I would not normally attribute to the whisky, and that was common from sample to sample. A couple of them I poured down the drain - and we're talking 1oz samples here! After my first batch of 20 bottles I did not buy further MoM samples. The drying flavors you describe seem consistent with my experience, I would call the taste bitter/harsh, and very unpleasant (vomit?). In some the flavor was stronger than in others. 1oz is a fragile amount in a flimsy little bottle, and who knows when the bottles are filled prior to my drinking them, how they are stored, and how soon the samples are drawn after the regular-size bottle is opened. So... yeah.

    1. Assuming that this was a sample fail -- it's difficult to tell what this whisky is "supposed" to taste like as their official tasting notes cannot be accused of being helpful to anyone -- I've found about a 10% incident rate with MoM's samples. Even though my percentage is lower than yours, this brings up a few interesting factors.

      Firstly, I don't think I've ever had an F-ed up sample via a swap with another whisky geek. Considering that we're just pouring from bottle to bottle while standing over our kitchen sinks, why are we doing a better job than a company who is charging for their samples, some of which are very expensive.

      Secondly, if this was a sample fail then half of my sample incidents were of whiskys bottled under their own labels. And since I haven't ordered many of samples their own bottlings, that failure rate would be probably around 33%. Wouldn't it behoove them to send out the best possible samples of their bottlings in order to lure us suckers into buying the whole bottle?

      Thirdly, I have purchased samples from two other retailers (who do not utilize sexy wax seals) and have not yet had a problematic experience with any of those.

      All of this is assuming something went wrong with this sample. There are zero rates or reviews of it on whiskybase, and other than whiskymag no reviews exist online. Either no one is buying it (not a shocker, considering Allt-a-Bhainne isn't the hottest brand) or people are collecting those high-lair-ee-oos bottle labels. In the whiskymag review, Martine Nouet does reference an unusual balsamic vinegar note, meanwhile Neil Ridley gives it a 77 which is a stinker of a grade coming from him.

      Anyway, to cap off my longest comment response ever, I'd like to close by saying I concluded my own MoM sample purchases last year.

  2. Are you telling me that I shouldn't be buying whisky just because it has dancey cows on the label? Because I'll be the one laughing when my Dylan/Chayefsky Pong bottle goes for thousands at auction in a decade or two.

    In all seriousness, which is asking consumers to take more of a leap of faith: The Glenlivet Alpha or TBWC?

    1. Probably MoM, since they've released dozens of whiskies at this point, whereas Glenlivet Alpha was a one-off. You should probably throw in TWE as well, with their Elements of Islay series.

    2. Uh oh, here comes another one of my long comment responses.

      The Glenlivet Alpha experience was, in my opinion, one of the ugliest things I've witnessed as a whisky enthusiast. Pernod Ricard's bald display of "Let's see how much these idiot addicts will pay for unused Nadurra casks bottled at a lower strength" was followed by bloggers falling all over each with orgasmic sycophancy to further the sale of this insult for the price of one free sample.

      TWE's Elements of Islay series is crummy in its lack of disclosure. It's crummier now that the prices have gone way up on each new release. One positive is that the TWE folks will usually reveal when there are sherry casks in the mix. Otherwise they play off the cult of each Islay distillery. "Do you like Ardbeg? Well this was distilled at Ardbeg and everything made at Ardbeg is sparkling and magical."

      What separates TBWC from TWE is the lengths to which MoM will talk about the label art and the minimal words spent on the actual whisky. Their brand seems to be "Check out our crazy labels, and oh by the way here's the word 'Springbank'!" Yes, more effort is put into their stickers than everyone else's, but the images already online and also after you look at the purchased bottle once, the label's wit is spent.

      As for the actual leap of faith......despite my above vitriol, I would have actually trusted Glenlivet (a pretty well-oiled machine aside) not to bottle some crap for their big event whisky. The problem was the $300+ price tag. Some of the Elements of Islay have garnered good reviews from reviewers who couldn't care less about losing their free samples. But again they're 500mL bottled at prices higher than 700/750mL single cask indies. As for TBWC, I'm sorry but I don't understand why a thinking person would buy a small bottle of Mystery Meat at an inflated price from a company that won't even talk about the whisky. So TBWC becomes the biggest leap of faith to me as well.

    3. 'Orgasmic sycophancy' - I love that! I'll try to use it every day at least once, for the next week.

    4. Thank you. Between politics and whisky websites, I'm sure there's no lack of opportunities!